With an entire trilogy coming out in three months, Grace Burrowes has been busy! The first in the Captive Hearts series, The Captive, was released this month. This Regency romance trilogy focuses on the troubled, but of course swoon-worthy, veterans of war and the women they return home to. The next two installments, The Traitor and The Laird, will be released in August and September respectively. In this guest blog post, Burrowes reveals the perks of widowhood for Gillian of The Captive.
Widowhood is a time of sorrow, and widows above all women are to be pitied. Gillian, Countess of Greendale, has waited eight years to earn such pity.
Gilly has obeyed society’s rules and married the man of her father’s choosing. Eight years later, she’s finally a widow, and more than prepared to take advantage of the very same rules that consigned her to a loveless marriage. Now those rules say she’s entitled to live quietly on her own. As a widow, she will endure poverty and obscurity happily to have the peace and contentment that even society admits are her due.
Two problems stand between Gilly and contented widowhood. First, her late husband left her dower house in atrocious condition. Creeping damp isn’t the worst of it. Bats, possibly; a leaking roof, surely. Second, her young cousin Lucy is much in need of a father’s love and attention, but that good fellow has only recently ended captivity in French hands, and is otherwise occupied.
Gilly stirs herself for Lucy’s sake to confront the girl’s father, Christian, Duke of Mercia. Gilly is prepared to give His Grace a sound dressing down—Lucy needs her papa!—but His Grace dangles a lure before Gilly that tempts her from her plans of obscure widowhood. Gilly wants peace and contentment, and she wants to ensure Lucy’s well-being. Christian offers Gilly a place in his household—they are cousins by marriage, after all—and asks her to join him and Lucy at his country estate.
Oh, the blessings of widowhood! Because of her widowed state, Gilly is free to accept Christian’s offer and join him in the tranquil, bucolic splendor of the Severn family seat. She has company, she’s in comfortable surroundings, and she has a widow’s autonomy. She can also keep an eye on Lucy, but increasingly, she finds herself keeping an eye on Christian as well.
He’s not a particularly impressive figure at first—weak, mentally troubled, overwhelmed with the effects of captivity and the burdens of resuming his ducal responsibilities. As much as Gilly longs for independence, she can’t help but sympathize with a duke who was cruelly deprived of his own independence and taken captive. Christian can’t help but admire Gilly, whose relentless independence becomes both an inspiration and a challenge.
Gilly thinks she’s playing by society’s rules as the story opens, but by the end of the book, for Gilly and Christian, the only rules that matter have to do with love and honor. Propriety and the social expectations? Not so much.
You can see more about the trilogy on Grace Burrowes' website.
Molly Harper's latest paranormal romance, Better Homes and Hauntings, is the spooky, oftentimes hilarious tale of talented landscaper Nina Linden as she attempts to restore the dilapidated mansion of wealthy entrepreneur Deacon Whitney. But she keeps running into obstacles that keep her from finishing the job, not to mention exploring her feelings for Deacon. Namely: ghosts. In this guest post, Harper shares the inspiration behind the book and her thoughts on played-out horror tropes.
As a child, I watched a little too much Scooby Doo. I remember sitting in front of TV, practically twitching as the ending credits to Guiding Light rolled by, whining, “Is it coming on now, Mom?” Because that day was going to be the day: The day when Fred and Daphne failed to catch the spooky culprit—using Scooby and Shaggy as bait—and Velma would be forced to say, “Jinkies, gang, I guess this carnival really is haunted by the ghost of an evil Cotton Candy Clown.”
I was never happy when the phantom turned out to be a guy in a rubber mask. And their reasons for posing as phantoms never satisfied my curiosity. This turned out to be a lifelong problem. Whether it was a TV show, a campfire tale or a non-fiction paranormal-science book, it was rare to find a haunting explanation that left me feeling sufficiently frightened.
And frankly, I got a little judgmental about the actions of the Scooby Gang and the characters in the horror movies. Why did they always split up? Why did they go investigate spooky noises coming from the basement armed only with a flickering candle? Why did they ignore walls dripping blood and disembodied voices telling them to “GET OUT”?
So when I set out to write Better Homes and Hauntings, my first-ever ghost-based paranormal romance, I had three goals for the characters. I would devise the scariest, twisty-est ghost story possible. I would spare the characters the stereotypical, “let’s split up” moments. And no one would lose their glasses, ever.
Based on the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, The Crane’s Nest of Better Homes and Hauntings is an enormous, stylish structure on a private island. However, it never quite made it as a family home since Gerald Whitney, the business tycoon that built it, murdered his unfaithful wife, Catherine, immediately after it was finished. Gerald died disgraced but unprosecuted, and rumors of a curse followed the family as their fortunes crumbled. Over the years, locals insisted Catherine’s spirit was still wandering the halls of the mansion, hiding from Gerald’s angry ghost and searching for her lost lover.
Tales of ghosts and curses persist until Deacon Whitney, the first successful Whitney in more than a century, sets about restoring the mansion to its former glory. A team of restorers, including comely landscape architect Nina Linden, plan to stay on the island for the summer to breathe life back into the Crane’s Nest, and the weird phenomena begin before Nina sets foot on the island. The characters are drawn into the mystery of Catherine’s death, but the spirits inhabiting the mansion are none too happy with their sleuthing.
As someone who has grown up with the horror movie tropes, it was a lot of fun to play with those themes and the characters’ awareness of them. I loved hiding clues in strange places around the house and letting the characters stumble into information. My “Mystery Gang” experience fear, ferret out the truth and find love – because this is a romance, and even though Fred and Daphne never got together, I’ll do what I want. And in the end, there is a real ghost and a twist, without a rubber mask in sight.
Better Homes and Hauntings is a childhood dream fulfilled and I hope the readers enjoy it.
Will you be picking up Molly Harper's latest romance?
Set in sunny Southern California, Lauren Christopher's debut romance novel The Red Bikini begins at a low point. Giselle McCabe's life has long revolved around her daughter and husband, but everything is turned upside down when he suddenly leaves her. At a loss, Giselle and her young daughter seeks refuge at her sister's beach house in idyllic Sandy Cove. Giselle expects some relaxation and recuperation, but what she finds is love in the most unexpected of places. In this guest post, Lauren shares the inspiration behind The Red Bikini.
I love summer. And I love books. Some of my most wonderful memories of carefree summers involve sitting in my back yard under the orange tree and eating pistachios all afternoon in the heat while getting lost in a great book.
So I guess it’s no surprise that when it came time to write my first romance novel, I started with a romantic, summertime setting. I wanted to bring alive everything I loved about my hometown area in Southern California since I was a kid: the sunsets, the palm trees, the mist on June mornings, the greenbelts, the way the bright-green ice plant meets the sand, the ocean-facing restaurants and how it always smells a little like suntan oil and open grills when you’re walking down the sidewalk in a beach town.
I also set out to write about a slightly older heroine. (Why should the 20-somethings have all the fun in romance novels?) Giselle is 35, and, like most women in their 30s, she’s a little set in her ways. And there’s no way she’s wearing that red bikini her sister left her.
She also has a lot of preconceived notions about things, and that was fun for me to work with. I think everyone in their 30s can relate to that – you’ve decided how things are, and how things are going to be, and it’s hard to open your mind to new possibilities; especially when it comes to love. Giselle has her certain routines for grocery shopping, her “Excel sheets in her head” about her daughter’s nutrition, her assumptions about suburbia and what her life should entail.
So I wanted to throw a hero Giselle’s way who would challenge all that. And that’s how Fin, the 28-year-old surfer, was born!
I knew that Giselle would bristle at everything about him. I guess I wanted to explore how often, perhaps, our assumptions or misperceptions might get in the way of letting us fall in love. Giselle assumes Fin’s too young, too irresponsible, too used to groupies and easy sex to hold her interest or be interested in her. And Fin assumes she’s too well-bred and well-educated to be interested in him. But one by one, they both have their stereotypical assumptions stripped away.
Why should the 20-somethings have all the fun in romance novels?
The surfer stereotype was a fun one to use. People still hold onto the idea of the laid-back surfer “beach bum.” But here in Southern California, a guy in a wetsuit with a board under his arm could just as easily be your CEO as a professional surfer making six figures a year. Surfing is a $6 billion industry now, and there’s a lot of cut-throat competition involved, both in the water and in boardrooms. So I wanted Giselle to stumble into this world and have some of her stereotypes questioned, which opens her up to challenging lots of things about her life. As she does, she becomes more accepting of other people and, ultimately, more accepting of love and respect in return from the most improbable sources. Fin goes through a similar journey, and together they find that “connection” doesn’t happen on a superficial level – same interests, same hobbies, same lifestyle – connection happens on a deep, gut level.
Beyond that, I just wanted to make the story fun and romantic! For a couple of summers, my family and I stayed in a beach house in San Clemente where sea spray actually splashed the patio when high tide was in – and that’s the house I modeled Fin’s home on. I love going to the huge outdoor art pageant here every summer called the Pageant of the Masters (my husband takes me every year for my birthday). It has a long, romantic history, so I put Fin and Giselle there for one scene, too. And I put them in Laguna Canyon for a couple of scenes, which has its own golden beauty and real eucalyptus groves. Throw in some good wine, walks along the pier, sultry Spanish street names and delicious tacos, and I hope to transport readers to a summer of romance – where they can relax under the shade of their own backyard tree, eat pistachios in the heat and get wonderfully lost in a book…
Thanks Lauren! If you want to read more about the inspiration behind The Red Bikini, check out Lauren's author website.
Romance novels are filled with all types of dashing male leads. But what does Marie Force, author of the newly released I Want to Hold Your Hand, have to say about the hero trope? In this latest novel in the Green Mountain series, sweet and caring Nolan attempts to win the love and trust of Hannah, whose heart still mourns the husband she lost to war. In a guest post, Marie shares what it takes to be considered a true hero.
As a romance author, I spend a lot of time with “heroes,” the word we use in the romance community to describe our male protagonists. I’ve written all kinds of heroes in my 30-plus contemporary romances. Some are "alpha," some are "beta," some have swagger and others are just downright hilarious. All of them have qualities that endear them to the women who love them in the books—as well as the women who love to read about them. However, I think Nolan Roberts, the hero of my latest book, I Want to Hold Your Hand, might be the most heroic of all.
Several years after the death of his close friend Caleb Guthrie in Iraq, Nolan realizes he has feelings for Caleb’s widow, Hannah. Nolan, Hannah and Caleb grew up together in the fictional town of Butler, Vermont, and their friendship endured into adulthood. After Caleb’s death, Nolan and Caleb’s wide circle of friends are a source of comfort for Hannah, who goes out of her way to keep up the traditions her late husband enjoyed so much with his unruly tribe of friends.
Over time, however, it becomes clear to Hannah—and her very large and nosy family—that Nolan has special feelings for her. In All You Need Is Love, Book 1 in the Green Mountain Series, we see the Abbott family take great pleasure in delivering Nolan’s frequent messages to Hannah.
In Nolan’s mind, a quiet, unassuming town mechanic doesn’t stand a chance with the woman who was once married to the larger-than-life Caleb Guthrie. He also wonders what Caleb would think of Nolan having feelings for Hannah, even if he’s never acted on them—until one significant night when everything changes between them. Afterwards, they can no longer deny the attraction that has simmered between them for quite some time.
I think it takes a special kind of man to step into this situation with his eyes wide open to the emotional battlefield he’ll need to navigate to bring this woman into his life. Nolan puts Hannah's happiness, well-being and needs so far above his own, it's as if his own needs don't exist. Nolan also puts up with her huge and interfering family who want to celebrate the fact that their beloved Hannah seems to be taking an enormous step forward with a man they love and respect, while torturing him with their special brand of Abbott “involvement” all the same.
Nolan never blinks an eye, even when Hannah’s father and grandfather “kidnap” him to gauge his intentions towards Hanna. He puts up with her twin brother’s grilling and the concerns of townspeople who have stood by Hannah during her darkest hours and want only the very best for her. He stays steady in the face of the emotional reaction Caleb’s brother has to hearing that not only is Hannah dating again, but she’s seeing one of Caleb’s closest friends.
Through all of this, Nolan never wavers in his love for Hannah or his determination to see her happy again, no matter what it takes. His love for her is the one true thing in his life, and that, more than anything else, makes him the most heroic of heroes.
Thanks Marie! Readers, will you be checking out I Want to Hold Your Hand? Find our more about Marie and the book on her website.
Love the romance of Jane Austen, but looking for something a bit saucier? Then Jayne Fresina’s tantalizing Once Upon a Kiss, the first installment in The Book Club Belles Society series, might hit the spot! As five young women of a quaint English village delve into the new and scandalous novel Pride and Prejudice, it sparks some not so lady-like desires in rebellious and clever book club member Justina Penny. In this guest post, Fresina shares her love for those immortal Austen novels and her inspiration (as well as her trepidation!) as she pens a new series of romance in the Regency Era.
I became a Jane Austen fan at fifteen — and yes, that is a long time ago, and no, I’m not saying just how long! My first exposure to Jane’s work was a BBC TV production of “Pride and Prejudice,” which my English literature teacher, Mrs. Jones, had advised the class to watch. Oh wise, dear Mrs. Jones, of the irrepressible enthusiasm and bright eyes gleaming through enormous glasses. She knew I’d be sucked right in.
After that I saved up and bought a set of all Austen’s books, eagerly working my way through them, absorbing myself in that Regency world of ballrooms, bonnets and manners. What a world it was. Somewhere to which I could escape from being an awkward teenager for a few blessed hours.
Years later, when I finished my first Regency series for Sourcebooks and my editor asked if I had any ideas for another series, I jumped at the chance to write a playful homage to Austen’s work. I didn’t want to write a sequel, or prequel—or ‘quel’ of any kind. Nor did I want to risk offending Janeites and Lady Catherine de Bourghs the world over. (“Heaven and earth!—of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?”)
So I created “The Book Club Belles Society,” a small group of young ladies in a country village, living when Jane’s books were first published. The Belles include Justina Penny (Jussy), her sister Catherine, and their friends Diana, Rebecca and Lucy. Some of the ladies are good and proper. Some aren’t. Some would never put a foot wrong. Some always leap without looking. Naughty or nice, one thing they have in common is a love of books.
What did Jane’s contemporaries think when they read about Darcy and Lizzie? Were they inspired to seek their own Mr. Darcy, or did they (ahem . . . Jussy) find him a bit of a bore?
In 1813, the Critical Review found only suitable moral instruction (I hear Jussy sighing heavily) within its pages. “An excellent lesson may be learned from the elopement of Lydia:—the work shows the folly of letting young girls have their own way...” As for the author, “The line she draws between the prudent and the mercenary in matrimonial concerns, may be useful to our fair readers.”
Blimey, did Mr. Collins write that review?
Was Pride and Prejudice a moral lesson for naughty girls (ahem . . . Jussy), or was that just the male point of view?
The more wayward members of my Book Club Belles society, I’m afraid, do not take much guidance from the book, but they relish the romance. Especially when a man who appears to be the very embodiment of Mr. Darcy appears before them in real life, and suddenly they find their own lives taking similar paths to those of Austen’s heroines.
I hope Jane herself would find my attempts to recreate Regency English village life amusing—and not too saucy or impudent. It’s a dodgy business taking a beloved story and putting your own voice to it. This series is my homage to Austen, my thanks for the hours of pleasure her books have given me. As I worked on Once Upon a Kiss and the introductory novella “Before the Kiss” I was very conscious of staying true to Jane’s world—as far as I, a humble fan, ever could.
And Mrs. Jones, if you’re still out there somewhere, thank you!
Thank you, Jayne! What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out Once Upon a Kiss?
The men of Melissa Cutler's Catcher Creek series are irresistible, including the gorgeously rugged oil rights attorney Matt Roenick, hero of the third book, How to Rope a Real Man (out now!). He's certainly caught the eye of Jenna Sorentino, a single mom trying to get her act together and escape the tiny New Mexico town. In this guest post, Cutler shares her affinity for writing about strong, independent women and offers a sneak peek at Matt and Jenna's chemistry.
Melissa Cutler here, and I'm so excited to be on Bookpage talking about my latest western romance, How to Rope a Real Man. One thing that I hoped to achieve with this story—besides the most entertaining, engaging romance I could possibly write that left readers with a squishy, happy good-book high when they finished it—was that it would take a feminist stance. Even before this book, it was important to me that every book I write—from Harlequins to Westerns to small-town contemporaries—contain positive female relationships. And last year, I made a conscious choice to make sure all my books moving forward pass the Bechdel test (that, within the story, two women have a conversation about a topic other than men).
I’m not trying to write Message Books, but, rather, reflect our modern-day reality. The reality is, women are smart and capable. We form strong bonds with other women with whom we talk about things other than men; we often provide for our families financially; and we handle our shit. So in How to Rope a Real Man, single mom Jenna Sorentino is doing just that. She has strong relationships with her sisters and her best friend. She’s about to graduate college and has a job lined up that’s a strategic career move (with medical benefits, too!). And it was important to me to give Jenna a book hero who finds all those amazing qualities attractive. In fact, country lawyer Matt Roenick is my answer to the flood of alpha asshole heroes that have been all the rage lately.
I’m known for writing steamy romances, so you might ask: sure Matt is attracted to Jenna’s brain first and foremost, but is their physical connection present in the story? You bet. Do they have mind blowing sex? Heck, yeah. But like the vast majority of real life women, Jenna can’t easily orgasm during intercourse. Is that a problem for Matt? Nope. Matt has enough, er, tools in his toolbox that getting creative about Jenna’s pleasure is not an issue. Does it make their sex any less hot? That’s for readers to decide, but I think it makes those scenes even hotter.
I hope you’ll give How to Rope a Real Man a read. At its core, it’s a fun, heartfelt emotional journey of two people who are figuring out what they want out of life and falling in love in the process. Jenna is one of my favorite heroines, and Matt, one of my favorite heroes. Happy reading!
Here's the scene to whet your appetite:
With his eyes on the road, Matt cracked the knuckle of his middle finger and said, "I have a question I've been wanting to ask you. And I bet you've been asked it a hundred times."
As far as transitions went, this one was about as smooth as a dirt road after a rainstorm, but she decided to follow his train of thought around the mental U-turn. "You want to ask me about Tommy's father."
"That obvious, huh?"
She grinned and offered a shrug to show him she didn't mind. "He's not in the picture at all. Never has been, never will be."
Matt's breath gushed out in a whoosh and his torso folded in as though he would've doubled over if not for the support of the steering wheel. "What an idiot. I can't understand men like that."
One of Jenna's greatest sins was letting people believe Tommy's father wasn't around because he was a deadbeat. The truth was, the reason Tommy's father wasn't fulfilling his fatherly duties was because she'd never told him she was pregnant with his child. And unless she were to divulge the whole story of why she'd made that choice—which she'd never do because lives and livelihoods were at stake—then she came across as a borderline criminal, keeping a little boy and his daddy apart for no good reason.
“How are you coping with it? It's none of my business, but does the creep at least pay child support?"
Child support would've been nice. The money might have helped her cut down on her waitressing hours and given her more time with Tommy when he was little. "Tommy and I have managed all right. Rachel's helped a lot and now we've got the oil money coming in regularly." She touched his arm because gratitude was a good excuse to get her hand on him. "Thank you for being concerned about us."
He eased his arm away from her. "You almost told me something earlier but stopped yourself. You said you were juggling being a waitress and mom and something else."
It took her a lot of blinks to catch up with his second directional shift in as many minutes. And this time, she didn't like where they were headed. Not at all.
Her first instinct was to follow his lead by changing the subject. Then she thought about what a ridiculous conversational dance they were doing, twisting around every sensitive topic. How did she ever expect him to open up to her if she refused to do the same?
She scooted sideways in her seat, her heart pounding with a sudden burst of adrenaline. "I'll tell you something about me I've never told anyone, but it can't get around. Not even to my family . . . "
Thanks, Melissa! Readers, will you be checking out How to Rope a Real Man? Find our more about Melissa and the book on her website.
(Author photo by Tessa Desharnais)
They don't call Linda Lael Miller the "First Lady of the West" for nothing. The beloved author of more than 100 romance novels—most of them set in the West—knows of which she writes: She grew up on a ranch in Washington state, her father the town marshall who also competed in rodeos.
Miller's authenticity has certainly struck a chord with readers, with all five of the books in her wildly successful Big Sky series landing on the New York Times bestseller list. The just-published sixth—and final—book in the series, Big Sky Secrets, returns to Parable, Montana, to share the passionate love story that unfolds between Landry Sutton, a self-made tycoon, and Ria Manning, the new owner of a flower farm neighboring the Sutton ranch.
In this guest post, Miller reflects upon the ways that her childhood has influenced her career as an author.
My life certainly has influenced my writing in the past, and it continues to do so, I’m glad to say.
I like to say I grew up in the Old West. I rode my first horse before I was two—sharing the saddle with my cowboy dad, of course—and even then, I reportedly loved “cutting the brush,” which is country-speak for chasing stray cattle out of the bushes, etc., on horseback.
I heard a lot of great stories as a child, and some of them later turned up in books, slightly altered. My father and uncle both followed the rodeo circuit back in the day—Dad rode bulls and Uncle Jack rode broncs. Dad gave it up after he drew a particularly bad bull and got himself banged up, but Uncle Jack continued to compete for a long time.
Naturally, tales of the rodeo—and attending a number of them myself—sparked a lot of ideas that came in handy later.
As kids, my brother and I (we have two sisters, but they’re a lot younger) spent a lot of time on the Wiley ranch, outside of our old hometown, Northport, Washington, where Dad later became the town marshal. He had the star-shaped badge and the whole shebang.
Our honorary grandmother, Florence Wiley, grew up on a farm outside of Coffeyville, Kansas, and she told some great stories while cooking many a meal on the old cast-iron woodstove she refused to give up, even after the ranch got electricity.
My favorites were 1) an account of the night Jessie James slept in the Heritage family barn and 2) the day the Dalton brothers tried to rob the bank in Coffeyville. It seems the townspeople got wind of the plan ahead of time, and when the Daltons rode in, the local men were waiting with rifles and pistols. The whole motley bunch was shot to death in the space of a few minutes, and later, their bodies were strapped to old doors and boards and propped up against the wall of a building on the main street as an object lesson to anybody who might be considering a life of crime.
Gramma heard the shots from the farm, but though folks came from far and wide to view the spectacle, her father was ahead of his time and refused to parade his children past a row of dead outlaws, thank you very much.
Television was a big influence on my writing style, too, I must admit. I LOVED “Bonanza,” or more properly Little Joe Cartwright, as played by Michael Landon, and I’m pretty sure I learned the concept of scenes by noticing how they began and ended on the show. Obviously, something had to be happening before the commercial break to bring the viewers back after Dinah Shore sang, “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet…”
Today, I’m living in the country again, just as I did in the early days. Guess you could say I’ve come full circle!
Thank you so much, Linda! Big Sky Secrets is available now. Will you be checking it out, readers?
(Author photo: John Hall Photography)
Merry Christmas Eve, readers! Now is the time to fully indulge in Christmas themed everything before the big day passes, forcing you to pack up your Santa sweaters and tinsel for another year. Popular novelist Debbie Macomber admits she tends to overdo it a bit with her love of all things Christmas, but her latest book, Starry Night, gets it just right with a blend of romance, adventure and a little touch of Christmas magic. Carrie Slayton, a successful gossip columnist wants more out of her newspaper career, but when she comes upon the scoop of a lifetime in small-town Alaska, she must decide between her career or her heart. Watch Macomber excitedly introduce Starry Night in the trailer below. What are you reading this Christmas?
In her Darkest London series, Kristen Callihan has concocted a winning blend of history, the paranormal and sizzling romance that's seriously swoon-worthy. Set in Victorian London, the latest book in the series, Shadowdance (out today!), follows Mary Chase, of the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals, as she teams up with loner Jack Talent to solve a murder. Neither wants to be working with the other, but lurking beneath their rivalry is an undeniable attraction that swells with each of their many heated exchanges.
As part of its Get Hooked on Historicals campaign, Callihan's publisher, Forever Romance, challenged five of its authors with the same task: Write a scene featuring a dishonored heiress with a complicated family situation as she meets her handsome rake in a cloakroom. Here is Callihan's scintillating scene:
Fur was creeping up her nose. Min pressed her body further into the silks and satins surrounding her and tried not to sneeze. Bloody inconvenient, this. There were far better places for this sort of thing. She’d be having words with Timmons when she was done here.
Which was likely to be later rather than sooner, given that the inane babble drifting through her hiding place would not let up.
“Lord Elsmere went this way. I am certain of it.” This from Miss Whetherby, husband hunter of the highest caliber.
“Let us try the ballroom once more,” said her sister, Miss Jane. “Men cannot play cards all night long.”
Min rather thought men could, and would, but gave a mental wave of encouragement toward the sisters all the same. They bustled off, arguing now over whether the diamonds around Mrs. Standish’s throat were real or paste.
Min sagged against the cloaks. Finally. Her eyes had barely fluttered closed when an arm snagged about her waist, drawing her close to a hard male body.
Suppressing a squeak, she slapped a hand against a solid chest even as she grasped the handle of the knife hidden in the voluminous folds of her altered evening gown. But she halted when a familiar voice drifted down.
“Well, well, what do we have here?” Eyes the color of strong coffee smiled down at her.
“Surely not Miss Wilhelmina Post, London’s most notorious vixen, hiding out in the cloak room.”
Glaring, Min gave his chest a good shove, and he let her go, falling back in to the deep recesses of the closet with her. The man ought to look ridiculous surrounded by cloaks, but lean, long, and with the sleeve of a fur coat draped over his dark hair, Lionel August Cavanaugh was still elegant.
In her grandmother’s time, when Empire waists ruled, Cavanaugh would have been deemed a rake. Now, when one had to contend with bustles and waist-synching corsets, he was merely labeled trouble.
“My exploits are merely a prelude to your circus act, Cavanaugh.”
He chuckled, a dark rumble of sound. “Well you’ve got me there, sweets.” He moved a bit closer, bringing with him the warm scent of vetiver and linen. “Pray tell, what are you doing in the cloak room?” White teeth flashed in the dim. “No, let me guess. You had an assignation with a rather dashing overcoat, but were thwarted by an overprotective opera mantle.”
With pronounced deliberation, he plucked an ostrich feather from her hair and held it aloft.
She ignored it. “Excellent deduction, Cavanaugh. Your talents are being underutilized.”
His eyes narrowed, yet the corners of his lips twitched. “Yes, aren’t they just?”
They grinned at precisely the same moment, and then Cavanaugh gave her arm a friendly bump with his. “It is good to see you again, Min.” His tone was softer now. “When they told me you’d be my contact, I was most pleased.”
Pleasure warmed her cheeks. “It is good to see you too, Leo.”
Though she’d not had much contact with Cavanaugh over the last year, he’d been Tony’s closest and oldest friend. Cavanaugh had been witness to all the major moments of her life. Including her downfall.
The memory, and that of her brother’s loss, had her swallowing down a lump of regret. “Well, let us proceed. Eventually the attendant will return.”
“I paid him to keep guard.” Cavanaugh’s eyes twinkled. “Bloke fully supports meetings with fallen heiresses.”
The moniker ought to sting, but didn’t. Some things were worth more than respectability. Her loss of good standing was not really a sacrifice at all. Because she and her brethren were all that stood between humanity and monsters that crept about in dark corridors.
As if he were thinking along similar lines, Cavanaugh leaned in, and his warm breath touched her ear. “The demon is using Delacorte’s identity.”
Delacorte was announcing his betrothal to Lady Sarah Smithe at this ball. If they acted fast, perhaps they could find the real Delacorte and save him.
Cavanaugh moved closer. “I’m going now. Be sure to leave appropriately mussed.”
He moved to buss her check the precise moment she turned to do the same to him. Their lips met instead. It was the slightest of touches, a small exchange of breath, but Min felt the shock down to her toes, and her heart stilled.
Slowly, Cavanaugh drew back. The familiar insouciant expression he usually wore wasn’t there. No, this was far more worrisome. He appeared shocked, thoughtful, intent. Gently, he reached out and snared a coil of her hair with his finger. The auburn lock gleamed bright against his white gloves. How strange, all these years and she didn’t even know what his skin felt like upon her own. Dark eyes stared down at her. When he spoke, his voice was rough and thick. “Take care of yourself, Min.”